Selecting a brand name, obtaining a trademark, and protecting it, are incredibly important steps for any business.
Your brand is how you build your reputation and grow your business. If you want to avoid letting another business infringe on your brand or trademark, follow these five simple tips.
Brand names fall into one of several categories based on its level of protection. Generic names are the least protectable. You cannot trademark common words and generic terms, making them poor choices for branding.
The remaining categories include:
With a descriptive brand name, you may still struggle to receive a trademark, especially if you file before conducting business with the brand name.
Suggestive names suggest a connection between the name and the company. For example, “Coppertone” is a brand name for suntan lotion. The name suggests that you can achieve a copper tone.
Arbitrary and fanciful names provide the most legal protection and chance of receiving a trademark. Arbitrary names are unrelated to the industry, such as Apple. Marketers typically create fanciful names using elements from other languages. This may involve adding Latin prefixes or suffixes to other words to create a new word.
Before settling on a name, search for businesses currently using related names or trademarks. Start with a simple internet search. Look for any conflicts before you start using the name.
You may find social media handles, personal blogs, or other businesses using the same name or variations of the name. This does not always mean you need to select a different name.
Potential conflicts arise when competing businesses offer products or services in the same category. To search for every example, use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
The TESS allows you to see if anyone has already registered the same name or something similar.
You have two options when filing a trademark application. You can file up to six months before you start using the brand name. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will not review the application until you use the trademark in commerce.
The application process moves quicker when you file an application after already using the name. Establishing the brand before applying for a trademark increases your chances of a successful application.
After you start using the brand name and grow your market base, file a registration application for a trademark.
With trademark licensing, you license the use of the trademark to another business to make or distribute products or services carrying your branding. This is a common business arrangement, but it requires special provisions.
Ensure that the details of the agreement are in writing and inspected by legal experts. The main detail in the agreement is the type of licensing, such as:
With exclusive licensing, the licensee has sole rights to the trademark for the duration of the agreed term. If you want to continue using the trademark, you need a sole license. With this option, both parties use the trademark, but you cannot license it to a third party.
The non-exclusive license allows both parties to use the trademark and you have the option of licensing it to additional companies.
One of the most important tips for protecting your trademark is to continually monitor your registered trademark for any cases of infringement.
You have the right and responsibility to enforce trademark protection. If you find a person or business using your registered trademark for their own products or services, consult with a trademark attorney.
Your attorney may send a cease and desist notice. Acting quickly helps limit the use of the name by the competing party, helping you maintain ownership.
These are just a few of the best ways to protect your trademark and brand name. For additional advice, consult with a professional trademark attorney.